I recently submitted thirty-one devotions for a national ministry’s monthly devotional for its supporters. The batch I submitted last year was well received, and I hoped for a similar reaction.

This time, the editor’s response was not quite what I expected. She complimented the writing style and general content. But most of my submissions were missing a required point set forth in the ministry’s writers’ guidelines.

The editor wrote to tell me that she had corrected a portion of the batch. She apologetically asked whether I wanted her to continue correcting the remaining devotionals or wanted to complete the edits myself.

As I read her email, I realized there wasn’t one thing wrong with this picture, there were several things wrong.

First, I should have paid more attention to the writers’ guidelines. Having had my work enthusiastically received last year caused me to become overconfident. I relied on past experience and failed to confirm that my work met her requirements before I submitted it this time.

Second, she was apologetic when she informed me of my error. This editor was considering purchasing work that didn’t meet her standards, and she had gone so far as to make many of the corrections herself, rather than ask me to do them.

Her reluctance to hold me accountable surprised me. Then she said something that amazed me even more. Her reluctance stemmed from her experience that many writers take offense at the slightest bit of constructive criticism. They’ve responded to her with statements such as “Take it or leave it” or “God gave me these words, so I’m not going to change them.”

I made the required corrections. She accepted the work, and (cliché alert!) all’s well that ends well. In fact, she asked me to write for her organization again. A direct result of how I responded to her concerns.

However, this whole exchange caused me to think about other areas of my life.

How do I respond to constructive criticism from those around me? Do they see me as someone who arrogantly thinks she is always right or as someone who has a teachable spirit?

What about God’s instructions to me? Have I become so familiar with God’s Word that I am overconfident about obeying what it says? Do I take God’s forgiveness so much for granted that my failure to obey His commands barely registers on my radar? Worse, do I rely on familiarity as a substitute for reading and studying on a daily basis?

What about you? When it comes to instructions—from God or an editor (and no, they’re not the same thing!)—are you careful to read and follow, or do you presume that your past experience is a good enough guide?

When others offer you constructive criticism, how teachable is your spirit?

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© 2010 Martin Alan Grivjack Photography
Martin Alan Grivjack Photography

Ava Pennington is a writer, Bible teacher, and speaker. Her book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, is endorsed by Precepts founder Kay Arthur. She has also written numerous articles for magazines such as Clubhouse, Today’s Christian Woman, Power for Living, and Called. In addition to her writing, Ava teaches a weekly Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) class of 300 women. She is a passionate speaker and teacher and delights in challenging audiences with the truth of God’s word in relevant, enjoyable presentations. Ava and Russ have been married for 40 years and live in southeast Florida. For more information, visit her at AvaWrites.com

4 comments

  1. Yes – amen, Ava! I see unteachable spirits in my small freelance editing business, too.

    Me, I’d rather learn and improve my writing. I’m always thankful when someone (who has the right heart) corrects or teaches me.

    I’ve also learned to recognize when criticism is coming out of jealously or just plain ole meanness. I always ask God for wisdom before accepting or rejecting critique. I tell my clients to do the same.

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